Figures released by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) suggest that workplace bullying is on the increase. In 1998, managers in just 7 per cent of workplaces said they had had grievances raised by bullying or harassment. This had risen to 11 per cent by 2011. Now, Acas has said they receive around 20,000 calls a year to their helpline, asking for advice on bullying in the workplace – an average of about 80 calls per day.
It is likely that there are a number of reasons behind the apparent rise in bullying. For a start, there is far greater awareness of the problem. Social media and websites like Glassdoor mean that it’s easier than ever to make unacceptable behaviour known outside the workplace, and this breeds a culture where it is easier for bullied individuals to speak out. The understanding of what constitutes bullying has also changed. What might have been considered normal ten or twenty years ago might now be interpreted as harassment.
One complication is that there is no agreed, legal definition of what bullying is. This leads to a difference of opinions and means that “bullying” can be highly subjective. Acas’ report reads, “Reflecting the nebulous nature of workplace bullying, Acas provides a broad description of it as ‘offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient’
(Acas 2014:1). However, in the most recent British survey data an even broader definition is now being adopted, to measure a range of behaviours under the banner of ill-treatment, interpersonal conflict, or unacceptable and unwanted behaviours.”
There is no denying it is a serious problem; estimates suggest that workplace bullying costs somewhere in the region of £18 billion every year in reduced quality of work and output, wasted time and reduced motivation. Then there are the direct costs to employers of legal action, as well as recruitment – as well as the personal and emotional costs to victims.
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